When stoppages have occurred over the years, blood from the plant has backed up into area residents' bathtubs.
Charlie Stenholm, a former U.S. congressperson, is now a spokesperson for the processing plants. He says the plants provide a safe, convenient way to dispose of unwanted horses.
"It's a well-regulated industry that abides by humane euthanasia practices," he said.
Stenholm argues that horse owners should have the right to decide whether or not to send their unwanted animals to slaughter.
The industry, he says, allows owners to retain some value. Processing plants pay, on average, U.S. $400 per horse.
Homes for Horses
Meanwhile, Congress is considering another bill related to the issue.
The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, introduced last year, would permanently ban the sale and transport of horses to slaughter.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is actively pursuing defeat of the legislation.
"For us, it's strictly an animal-welfare issue," said Mark Lutschaunig of the AVMA's government-relations division.
Without meat processing as an option, many of the unwanted horses will be donated to rescue and retirement facilities, he says, which are not regulated by any governmental body.
Standards of care and financial support totalling 127 million U.S. dollars would be needed, he said, to ensure proper care for the horses affected by the bill.
Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses, an equine-rescue facility in Hitchcock, Texas, said there really aren't enough unwanted horses to make this an issue.
Less than one percent of the total U.S. horse population is sent to processing plants each year, and new owners could easily be found for those animals.
Habitat's 27-acre (11-hectare) ranch and 160 foster homes in three U.S. states adopt about 300 horses each year.
"We're very successful in finding homes for horses," he said.
Finch is hopeful an outright ban on horse slaughter will be passed, adding that 2006 is the fourth year in which bills regarding this issue have been considered by U.S. lawmakers.
"We're tired of fighting, but we're not quitting," Finch said. "It's not over by any means."
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